Teenager at BLM protest who tried to burn Union flag on Cenotaph faces jail

Connor Parker
·3-min read
Astrophel Sang pled guilty to attempting to set the Union Jack on the Cenotaph on fire. (SWNS)
Astrophel Sang pled guilty to attempting to set the Union flag on the Cenotaph on fire. (SWNS)

A teenager who attended a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest faces jail after admitting attempting to set fire to the Union Jack flag on the Cenotaph in Whitehall.

Astrophel Sang, 19, from Birmingham, was arrested after videos were published on social media of him twice attempting to use a lighter to set the flag alight.

He was committed to the Crown Court for sentencing after he pled guilty on Wednesday to a charge of attempted arson for which he could be imprisoned for up to 18 months.

Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard the teenager was goaded on by protestors who urged him to set on fire the government-owned flame-retardant flag when he climbed on the First World War memorial in central London.

When he was arrested, police claim he said: “I didn’t rip it, I tried to set fire to it.”

BLM protests sprung up across the globe after the death of George Floyd in the US this summer, with several taking place in the UK.

Watch: Winston Churchill statue and the Cenotaph boarded up ahead of Black Lives Matter protests

Read more: Officers forced to flee after hooded gang shoot fireworks at police car in Birmingham

The UK protests were mostly peaceful but were marked by some demonstrators vandalising monuments of people who they believed were racist – most notably the statue of Winston Churchill in London.

Prosecutor Komal Varsani said police were working to contain a protest on 7 June at around 8.40pm when demonstrators starting “showing aggressive behaviour” towards them.

Varsani said Sang was at the front of the group and was being hostile and aggressive forcing police to hold him back.

She said after leaving the front of the protest officers witnessed Sang climbing the cenotaph.

Varsani said: “The officer describes the defendant pulling at the Union Jack flag and showing it to the crowd of people.

Police officers surround the cenotaph in Whitehall, London, during a Black Lives Matter protest rally. (PA)
Police officers surround the cenotaph in Whitehall, London, during a BLM rally. (PA)

Read more: Majority of black Britons think the Conservative Party is institutionally racist

“While several people urged him to come down off the monument, others were encouraging him.

“The defendant had a lighter in his hand and tried to set fire to the flag.

“The flag was flame retardant. That is the only reason why it did not catch on fire.”

Varsani said police ordered him to get down the Cenotaph and Sang did not comply.

She added: “The defendant reached to pull a lighter out a second time and only stopped when an officer said he will use any means to stop him from setting fire to the flags.

“He was trying to wind up the crowd and enjoyed the attention, according to officer statements.

Police clash with protesters during a Black Lives Matter protest rally in Westminster, London, in memory of George Floyd who was killed on May 25. (PA)
Police clash with protesters during a BLM rally in Westminster, London. (PA)

The prosecutor concluded: “When the defendant was arrested, he said: ‘I didn’t rip it I tried to set fire to it’.

Nathaniel Wade, in mitigation, said Sang regretted his actions and did not understand the gravity of what he did at the time.

Wade said: “He wants to apologise, and ultimately that is what any court wants to hear, and that is the objective of the criminal justice system.”

A The Cenotaph was boarded up to protect it during the Black Lives Matter protests (PA)
A The Cenotaph was boarded up to protect it during the BLM protests. (PA)

Deputy chief magistrate Tan Ikram said: “There were fireworks and flares, protestors attacking police, protective helmets worn by trained officers, ongoing hostility and then this?

“I take a serious view of this offence.

“It’s not only the significant offence that would cause alarm to a large number of people in this country. It is not only about the Union Jack, it is the Cenotaph.”

The magistrate said he did not have the power to give Sang a proper sentence and he would be sent to the crown court to receive a harsher punishment.

Magistrates’ courts can only imprison people for up to six months, whereas crown courts have unlimited sentencing powers.

Watch: UK Protesters Drag Statue Of Slave Trader Into River